It looks like an instrument out of the Mos Eisley cantina in “Star Wars,” and appropriately enough, its eccentric inventor has dubbed it “Guitar2-D2.”
Ben Simon, the mad musical scientist of Williamsburg, hauls his 19-pound guitar-keyboard-drum machine hybrid to the subway most days, though he doesn’t always earn a living.
Perhaps onlookers at stops on the L train and in Union Square are so in awe of Simon’s creation that they forget to drop money in his basket; the massive robo-guitar is indeed quite a sight.
Sporting five speakers, about 70 buttons, 10 dials, the guitar creates a musical cacophony unlike any — judging by onlookers’ faces — heard before.
“I get the best reactions, that’s one of the most rewarding parts, watching peoples’ faces,” said Simon. “Sometimes they’re confused, other times they just smile.”
It takes 16 rechargeable batteries — of different sizes — to power this wacky creation, which would likely be a hit with (or one of) the robots in the Terminator movies.
The inspiration for the guitar came after an ill-fated tour through Europe with a full band. After the drummer “actually went insane,” Simon decided the answer to his problems was to create a guitar that brought percussion along with it. Simon planned to leave his unstable bandmates in the dust, instead opting to become a one-man music machine.
“In some ways, it makes a lot more sense to do it by yourself,” he said. “I thought about it almost like a futuristic spinoff of folk music. Show up, play and you don’t have to plug it in anywhere.”
While living in solitude on a farm in South Carolina, Simon began to envision what would become his crowning achievement in his 29 years of existence. Typically awaking at 5 am, Simon toiled eight hours a day for five weeks straight, first envisioning every step of the process before building “Guitar2-D2.”
“First, I built it in my mind,” said Simon while sitting in his Spartan Williamsburg apartment with only a few sheets on the floor as a bed. “I’m amazed at how well it works.”
Simon created the funky sounds through circuit bending, a process in which he removed the circuit boards from a 1980s-era Yamaha keyboard and a BOSS drum machine and re-soldered their wires.
Simon considers the guitar his opus, and it is the culmination of two previous ax reimaginings. Dubbed “Firefly vs. Spider Web” and “Social Anxiety Disorder,” the former features removable speakers that protrude from the body, and the latter a jagged, crooked neck with two amps built inside.
Still, Simon — who is currently unemployed — has yet to turn his fit of inspiration into financial success. He’s sold a few of his CDs for $10, gotten a few invitations to play at clubs, and even had a $1-trillion bill from Zimbabwe dropped in his basket — but that and $2.25 will get you on the subway.
But Simon does not dream of riches — in fact, he said he had recently had a dream where someone dropped a measly $15 check in his basket. Instead, he hopes to convey his enthusiasm to young kids.
“I’d like to teach dropouts, kids that don’t have much of a chance to build instruments,” he said. “It is really fulfilling.”